OAKLAND, Calif. -- At the entrance to the Oakland Coliseum yesterday were two signs attached to light posts. The first said, "One More Step." The second said, "Stay Focused."
The signs referred to Oakland's mission in Game 4 of thAmerican League playoffs, but afterward they took on another meaning. By downing Boston 3-1, the A's reached the World Series for the third straight year.
Can they be stopped?
Jose Canseco says no.
"If everyone plays to their utmost abilities, and everyone is hot aone time, there's no way anyone can beat us," he said. "You match us up against anyone man-for-man, we definitely have the best team."
Cincinnati or Pittsburgh will be the next club to challenge thacontention, but the scary thing is, the A's didn't play to their "utmost abilities" against Boston, and they still swept in four.
They became the first team since 1919 to win a postseasoseries without hitting a home run. How? Their pitching held Boston to only four runs, one more than the all-time playoff low (Chicago against the Orioles, 1983).
They barely missed shortstop Walt Weiss, who was sidelined ba knee injury in Game 2. Why? Second baseman Willie Randolph delivered a pair of two-out RBIs on Tuesday, and shortstop Mike Gallego hit a two-out, two-run double yesterday.
Finally, they saw fans parading through the Coliseum yesterdaywaving brooms in glee. Reliever Dennis Eckersley said he couldn't look: "I'm superstitious." He much preferred third baseman Carney Lansford's T-shirt: "Contentment Stinks. Stay Miserable."
Anyone who has ever studied the face of manager Tony LRussa knows the A's are driven, but anyone who has ever seen them play knows they're gifted too. Boston manager Joe Morgan called them "a machine," which sounds about right.
How good are they, Joe? "As good as we've had in years,Morgan said. "The Reds [of the mid-'70s] were dynamite. I don't think I saw the '27 Yankees."
Are they a dynasty?
Morgan has a point.
If the A's don't repeat last year's World Series triumph, theiplace in baseball history will be far less secure.
"If we didn't win the playoffs, it would have been a verdisappointing season," Eckersley said. "We feel the same way about the World Series. We're not just happy to be there, like we were a couple of years ago."
Eckersley, of course, referred to the 1988 World Series, whicthe A's lost to Los Angeles in five games. That shocking defeat was a turning point for the franchise. The A's haven't taken anything for granted since.
The Bash Brothers, Canseco and Mark McGwire, were the talk obaseball in '88. Now they're merely cogs in the machine. Canseco, plagued by a sore hand and back, went 2-for-11 against Boston, McGwire 2-for-13. Neither had an extra-base hit.
Who cared? The A's finished with 34 singles, four doublesCatcher Terry Steinbach led the club with a .455 average, followed by Lansford at .438 and Gallego at .400. Leadoff man Rickey Henderson hit .294, but he was almost a non-factor, scoring only one run.
The killing-you-softly offense was the talk of the series, but fenoted that the A's stole nine bases, executed four sacrifice bunts and hit three sacrifice flies. Besides, the heart of this club is still pitching and defense.
Name another team in baseball history that had a 27-gamwinner as its No. 2 starter. Bob Welch fits that role for the A's, and no one blinks. That's because Dave Stewart, a 20-game winner four straight years, is the rightful No. 1.
Mike Moore, the supposed weak link of the rotation, gave up onrun in six innings to win Game 3. The starters averaged 7 1/3 innings. They were so good, the Red Sox went 0-for-17 with men in scoring position before Jody Reed's ninth-inning RBI single yesterday.
The bullpen, of course, played a role in that too. Eckersleearned two saves, Rick Honeycutt one. Together with Gene Nelson, they combined for 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Get the A's early. Or don't get them at all.
"They're a team of many dimensions," Boston rightfielder ToBrunansky said. "There isn't just one thing you can concentrate on. The key to beating Oakland is to get ahead early, take away the things they like to do."
Good luck trying. The starters issued Boston only six walks i29 1/3 innings. The defense, even without Weiss, was impeccable. Randolph made a diving catch in short rightfield yesterday, Lansford a gorgeous play on a ball down the line, Dave Henderson a shoestring catch in center.
And so it goes. La Russa said after Game 3 that the A's "loogood on paper, and take it to the field." Not even the furor surrounding Roger Clemens' ejection yesterday could diminish the magnitude of their accomplishment.
"The A's played great," Boston's Marty Barrett said. "They wergoing to beat us anyway."